The Relentless Pleasure of Little

It won't come as a surprise that I'm not a fan of fussy. It's one thing to pay attention to details, and yet entirely something else when a thousand itsy bitsy elements march around a page. I came to this realization when I was in college. It was the height of the post-modern period. The more the merrier. Modernist restraint was a misguided trend that led to ugly plain dentist office buildings. Mangle that type and add some hand-drawn squiggles that had deep conceptual meaning to three people? Sure, go for it.

Richard Neutra, Silverlake, Los Angeles

Somewhere in there, I visited one of my professors at her house to look at a project. She lived in one of the Silverlake Neutra houses. I expected the dentist office banality but found the most exquisite, harmonious, and quiet space. How could this be? Modernism worked? The next day I began removing elements rather than adding them.

One of my favorite books is Chair by Peter Bradford. This is modernism. It is direct, true to materials, clear, minimal, and bold. The usage of Helvetica in only a few sizes and a couple of weights is relentless. Like Brutalist architecture, the design is not about dainty and delicate. It is raw and rugged, but remains flawlessly refined and elegant.

Bradford's design is design with a big "D" (not Dallas). The type is type, the rules are rules, the black and white images are black and white images. Nothing is pretending to be something it isn't. If life were only the same.

some images here from culturalheritagebooks.com

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Chair of the undergraduate and graduate Graphic Design Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for LinkedIn Learning/Lynda.com He is the only two term AIGA national president in AIGA’s 100 year history. In 2014, Adams was awarded the AIGA Medal, the highest honor in the profession. He is an AIGA Fellow, and Aspen Design Fellow. He has been recognized by every major competition and publication including; How, Print, Step, Communication Arts, Graphis, AIGA, The Type Directors Club, The British Art Director’s Club, and the Art Director’s Club. Adams has been exhibited often, including a solo exhibition at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Adams is an author of multiple magazine columns, and several best-selling books. He has been cited as one of the forty most important people shaping design internationally, and one of the top ten influential designers in the United States. Previously, Adams was a founding partner at AdamsMorioka, whose clients included The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Disney, Mohawk Fine Papers, The Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Richard Meier & Partners, Sundance, and the University of Southern California.

Joan Crawford or Richard Neutra

Richard Neutra, Kaufmann House, Julius Shulman photographer

We recently decided to find a second house in Palm Springs. My mother would like to move there and escape the northern Nevada mountain weather. So it seemed like a good idea to find a place she could live in and the entire family could use. Years ago, I remember the Kaufmann House for sale. I seem to recall Barry Manilow owned it and it had been transformed from a gem of elegant forms to a dark Mediterranean monstrosity. At the time it was incredibly inexpensive. It's been beautifully restored by Marmol Radziner and Associates, but I don't have an extra $20 million in a shoe box.

I'd forgotten how depressing and, at the same time, exciting looking for a house could be. One house will look amazing outside, but the inside is terrifying. There are houses that have been horribly treated; flipped and filled with cheap fixtures and materials. Others that have the type of decor you can't believe exists. After one such house, after we left, I kept repeating, "I didn't know people like that really existed." I'm just not one for red velvet wall-coverings and oversized paintings of Joan Crawford.

But, on the other end of the spectrum, we found some well maintained and thoughtfully restored houses with beautiful views. I had hopes of finding an early California Cliff May ranch house, but the few we found were on the small side. I don't want to be that cliché and do the whole mid-century modern thing, but there's a whole lotta that in Palm Springs. And I have a rumpus room in LA filled with extra Saarinen chairs and tables. We're still looking, but I couldn't resist sharing some of the options. You can be the judge. There's something for everyone.




Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Chair of the undergraduate and graduate Graphic Design Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for LinkedIn Learning/Lynda.com He is the only two term AIGA national president in AIGA’s 100 year history. In 2014, Adams was awarded the AIGA Medal, the highest honor in the profession. He is an AIGA Fellow, and Aspen Design Fellow. He has been recognized by every major competition and publication including; How, Print, Step, Communication Arts, Graphis, AIGA, The Type Directors Club, The British Art Director’s Club, and the Art Director’s Club. Adams has been exhibited often, including a solo exhibition at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Adams is an author of multiple magazine columns, and several best-selling books. He has been cited as one of the forty most important people shaping design internationally, and one of the top ten influential designers in the United States. Previously, Adams was a founding partner at AdamsMorioka, whose clients included The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Disney, Mohawk Fine Papers, The Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Richard Meier & Partners, Sundance, and the University of Southern California.

Goodbye Robert Venturi

I went to college at the height of the anti-modernist, semantic, deconstruction period. While this encouraged great debate and analysis, it made for lousy cocktail party conversation. The modernists had ruined the world with their evil black box buildings. They created banal and boring buildings. The graphic design was fine in its time, but didn’t work in a multi-cultural world of complex messaging. If something didn’t have at least five historical typographic references and a nod to rococo, it was a failure. More was more. Five varnishes and 12 colors, no problem. A plethora of meaningless forms, sounds pretty. And while you're at it, can you add some Greek columns and floral wallpaper?

I recall seeing The Fountainhead in Film History. In this scene (above) Howard Roark, our modernist hero, is asked to add columns and decorative bits to his pure building. He won't, of course. After the film many students disagreed with his position. They were insistent that the hideous post-modern applications brought his building to life.

In my Junior year, my comfortable post-modern world was turned upside down. I visited one of my professors who lived in a Richard Neutra house in Silverlake. I expected her house to be cold, impersonal, clinical, and boring. But, it was a revelation. The structure had harmony, grace, and elegance. It was surrounded by eucalyptus trees and was warm and inviting. Every space, from a doorway to a hall, was beautifully proportioned. How could I have been so wrong? How much time had I wasted deriding the true one God? I was converted. Today, this scene from The Fountainhead is painful to watch as the pure and simple beauty of the structure is vulgarized and abused like putting Grace Kelly in hooker heels, hot pink overalls, and a tie-dye t-shirt.